A Lack of Female Friendship In Grimms’ Fairy Tales

As a book written in patriarchal times, it would be presumptuous to expect Brothers Grimm to have a variaty of female characters with well-developed fates and independent spirits. However, the Grimms were able to make their heroines sometimes independent and strong as Cinerella, sometimes langid and passive as the Sleeping Beauty. The authors portray women both pretty as Snow White and nasty as the Fisherman’s Wife. However, a disturbing aspect is a lack of true frienship and mutual help among women. Given the fact that fairy tales were means of propaganda for patriarchal society, they usually contained bits of ‘wisdom’ that girls and young women had to remember. Therefore, a lack of collaboration among women could have a didactic purpose and it should be explored and revealed if so. Although fairy tales usually reinforce positive features such as friendship and mutual help, Grimms’ fairy tales usually direct this implied wisdom toward males, whereas females are shown isolated, which may reinforce a lack of sistehood between female readers.

In order to show that the bonds between female characters in Grimms’ Fairy Tales are representated rather differently than between men, Michael Mendelson compares them in the article “Forever Acting Alone: The Absence of Female Collaboration in Grimms' Fairy Tales.” The examples of positive cooperation even have such extraordinary cases when a tailor reveals his generosity and invites his friend goldsmith to live with him and share his gold, as in the tale “The Gifts of the Little Folk”. However, Mendelson remarks that female collaborations do not mirror the variety and purposes of male ones. And the most disturbing fact is that women are often shown evil and wicked in family relationships. It is from fairy tales come the stereotype that stepmothers and stepsisters are necessarily evil and envious.

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However, an image springs to mind of an old woman who routinely helps girls who get into trouble. Such a female helper could be an example of a true female cooperation if only she did not work for males in a fairy tale. For example, a typical story is of a male character like Bluebeard. The Grimms have several versions and one of them is “The Robber Bridegroom.” A young girl accepts an invitation and comes with a visit to a house of her groom deep in the woods. In the empty house, she only finds an old woman in the cellar who reveals her the truth about her groom and her possible fate. Despite being privileged enough to be alive in the den of villains, the old lady turns out to be willing to run away. However, the female helper is a problematic character for cooperation because she let all the previous girls die. For some reasons the old woman helps only this, last, heroin, whereas all the other girls who had happened to get to the hands of the men in this fairy tale had died.

Furthermore, even when the reader may think that Grimms have examples of female friendship and assistance, it turns out to be very selfish and perverted even. For example, in “The Nixie of the Mill Pond,” an old woman helps a young woman to save her husband from the pond but when he gets better, the old woman takes the young woman away and does not let her be with her husband. So it looks like a very perverted kind of collaboration and not very helpful one. In “Snow White and Rose Red,” the girls are so opposite to each other that they seem like the two side of the whole. One active and energetic and the other passive and quiet, the two girls even get identical husbands – a prince and his brother. Another striking example is “The Three Feathers” where the male protagonist is helped by a group of frogs and one of them becomes his wife at the end of the tale whereas the others remain frogs. So this tale hints at the only realization of women being marriage, otherwise she remains a frog.

Fairy tales have long been the receptacles of folk wisdom or at least sets of what society expected of each member. Men had to take care of their families and be strong and courageous; women had to take care of children and houses and be submissive and obedient. Curiosity is not rewarded, collaboration is very casual and egotistic. Maria Tatar points out that fairy tales are “once powerful narratives” and they carry out “the raw emotional power of the originals”. Fairy tales still may affect readers and inform them of behavioral patterns. Therefore, it is important to undertand what stand behind each feature and each character of a fairy tale. Quite the opposite, the Grimms depicts women as either bickering wicked villainesses or obedient starry-eyed goody-two-shoes. In fact, in Grimms’ tales women unite only for negative purposes and all the positive heroines act on their own. Meanwhile, a handful of tales vividly show that collaborations are rewarded.

Women are notorious wardens of patriarchy and fairy tales may act for reinforcement of the existing worldview. Young girls should be discouraged from showing curiocity and be very active. Though fairy tales promote such good traits as cooperation and assistance, women can employ these traits only in interactions with men. In contrast, fairy tales often show men like those who can make successful friendships, be selfless, and help each other in need, whereas women are shown as able to form wicked syndicates but nable to make real friends. Women may cooperate with women in fairy tales but it is usually done impersonally and for the sake of help rather than friendship. However, even a limited number of cases of cooperation between women, such as in “The Robber Bridegroom,” highlights that woman benefit from communication and collaboration.

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